By Dianne Anderson
Social justice activist Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is coming to town to talk about the dark side of the American dream – the poverty crisis that has barely budged since the last time the rich-poor gap was this wide in America.
Over 50 years ago, Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign in conjunction with SCLC hoped to galvanize the 35% of the nation mired in destitution. Just four months from first announcing the plans, Dr. King was assassinated.
Today, Rev. Barber is reawakening that campaign to give voice at this critical point in history, and continuing Dr. King’s quest for economic justice.
On January 18, Pastor Emory James is excited to welcome Dr. Barber as the featured guest speaker at a free Dr. Martin Luther King Celebration sponsored by Ephesians New Testament Church and the city of Fontana to be held at 3:00 p.m. at Westside Baptist Church, located at 15006 Randall Ave. Seating is limited, call 909.823.2319 for tickets.
“He is a very brilliant man. He’s addressing the systemic elements of people’s living in poverty, and poverty concerns that he has with this country,” said Senior Pastor Emory James of Ephesians New Testament Church of Fontana.
Over the past three decades, James said Ephesians Church has led the charge to bring inspiring speakers to the community. He said it’s urgent the community understand the deeper meaning behind current issues, and to promote Dr. King’s legacy.
James has featured Dr. Cornel West. They also hosted Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Jr., one of the top preachers in the nation.
They’ve held jazz events, as well as the distinguished gospel quartet, Mighty Clouds of Joy. Several years ago, they hosted the Emmy award-winning playwright Jeff Stetson of the plays, Blood on the Leaves and The Meeting, a fictional play about a meeting between Dr. King and Malcolm X.
James said that Barber’s message ties in tightly with the life and goals of Dr. King, and addresses the ramifications of systemic poverty not only in California, but nationwide. Rev. Barber is the president of the NAACP North Carolina state chapter, and originator of the Forward Together Moral Mondays Movement.
“He’s become part of the leg moving with people to march on Washington. He’s coming here to speak about poverty, the homeless and veterans,” James said.
Last year, James held a conference on homelessness to help bring the local problem to the forefront. Various agencies spoke about what they are doing in the Inland Empire, especially in the Fontana area, to tackle homelessness.
“A lot of people like to stick their heads in the sand when it comes to poor people and the homeless, with children outdoors and hungry,” he said.
But for churches, he believes the situation has been a burden because the demand has increased dramatically over the years.
“We seem to be the ears and voices for people that can’t speak for themselves, and do things that call attention to the needs of the community,” he said.
This time of year, everyone is thinking of Dr. King, and how far society has come from his initial fight for the people.
Nationally, the Census Bureau reports there were 38.1 million people in poverty in 2018. Of those, The poverty rate for non-Hispanic whites was 8.1% in 2018, down from 8.5% in 2017. The poverty rate for Blacks was 20.8%, while the poverty rate for Asians was 10.1%. The poverty rate for Hispanics was 17.6%.
Locally, James said one area of increased poverty he sees is that families had bought homes, but some lost their jobs, and renting costs today are more than an actual house payment.
He has seen entire families displaced.
“It’s not just one or two people,” he said. “Kids live and sleep in their cars with their parents. It’s sad,” he said.
Fontana is not as hard hit by poverty as some other cities in San Bernardino County, but James said African Americans are disproportionately represented.
“My whole goal is as a bishop and pastor in the community is to call attention to that. I can’t solve the problem, but I can keep you from sticking your head in the sand, and saying that it ain’t my problem,” he said.